Two black taxi drivers have provided more than 800 free rides for NHS heroes working at the capital’s busy Newham Hospital during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Michael Hayes and fellow licensed taxi driver, Clifford Pithers, provided the constant service free of charge over the last two months to grateful health workers on the NHS frontline. As lockdown measures start to ease and the peak of the virus passes, the two generous taxi drivers hung up their keys yesterday, after 110 shift changes, to return to their normal lives.
“At first I had to talk the staff into getting in my cab, but after a few days word began to get round and I got a message from the hospital’s comms team who ran an article on me on their website,” explained Michael.
Once the service gathered momentum Michael put an appeal out on social media for any other cabbies to help their local hospitals. After a couple of weeks, fellow London taxi driver Clifford got in touch and the pair have worked in tandem since. The cab drivers have been working two shifts a day, 7.30am and 7.30pm, and ferry NHS staff back and forth until all the staff are out and safely home.
Micheal said: “At the start of the pandemic and with the numbers beginning to rise I felt that I had to do something to help. I couldn’t just sit watching the news and seeing how others were putting theirselves on the firing line and not want to help.
“The only thing I could think of was to offer a bit of comfort to the staff at the end of their shifts, so I began to turn up with a note in the window offering free rides. I have something of an emotional attachment to Newham Hospital as all three of my kids were born there so it was an easy choice.”
Michael added: “I don’t think it’s right that NHS workers should be forced into public transport and have believed from the start that the government should have utilised the whole black cab trade to transport NHS staff. We are the only truly safe form of transport."
Staff at the hospital based in east London were working up to 14 hour shifts when the COVID-10 outbreak was at its peak. Michael explained that health workers were facing traumatic times with the rising volume of ill patients, some of who were colleagues working at the hospital.
Michael said: “I’ve had nurses sobbing their hearts out on the way home, but they shrug it off and get back to work for their next shift. True heroes.
“I took one staff member all the way back to Surrey one day as she was in no fit state to travel on the train. She had lost two patients in her care that night and it had ruined her. She was as enormously grateful for the ride as I was impressed with her dedication to her patients.
“We have made some great friends in the hospital and get many regular passengers. At times some have been very emotional and really appreciate the comfort of a ride home,” added Michael.
Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK, the taxi industry has been greatly impacted with work levels falling to unsustainable levels. As lockdown measures ease and with financial income support soon to stop at the end of the month, cabbies in London and across the UK will soon be back behind the wheel.
For cab drivers returning to work, Michael was confident that social distancing can be achieved in London taxis if the right precautions are taken, saying: “The screen obviously helps enormously, but we go the extra mile and disinfect our cabs between rides with bleach and sanitiser. All the air gaps are sealed around my partition as as is the cash tray and the air con is turned off and vents sealed so there can be no transmission of air between front and back. We are sitting in our own germ free bubbles.
“If I could give one piece of advice it would be not to be complacent. Follow our lead and keep your cab clean and sterilised. As much as it hurts to say it, avoid cash and if you do need to touch it give it a squirt of antibac. Wash your hands regularly and don’t put your windows down unless you really have to. It’s all common sense really. Think safety.”
Despite the downturn, Michael also praised the support of the taxi industry saying: “The trade have been very supportive going as far as garages offering free servicing, the loan of a new LEVC TXE and even as far as wanting to crowd fund to pay our costs. I’ve never felt the need to take anyone up on their kind offers, it wouldn’t sit right with me but I really do appreciate the offers. The moral support from other drivers is great too.”
Staff at Newham Hospital and those living in the local community have been quick to praise the taxi drivers for their outstanding support and service over the two months.
Adam Sewell-Jones, Interim CEO of Newham University Hospital and Group Executive Director Barts Health, said via social media: “The public have rightly recognised the heroics of many people in the NHS, but it's important that history remembers the efforts of people like Michael and Clifford who have shown the best of humanity in supporting staff Newham Hospital during this period.”